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10:23 PM on 07.29.2013

The Last of Us Succeeds by Challenging the Player's Morality

From my blog at

I have had moments in my life when I cannot tell if it is improving or only getting worse. I don't have a specific, definable moment that I can point to and accuse of being when everything bottomed out. So I have no idea where the bottom is, or if I have reached it already. The scary part isn't that I may have hit bottom. It's that I may still be somewhere near the top.

In The Last of Us, the latest game from developer Naughty Dog of Uncharted fame, Joel knows the exact moment when his life bottomed out. You know it, too, as the player. You play through that moment in the game's opening sequence. You play as his daughter. You don't play as her long.

How far would you go to save your daughter? Or your son? Or any family member? Doesn't matter who, as long as they are loved. Maybe your cat. How far would you go? What would you do? How many people would you hurt? Would you hurt everyone? And when I type everyone, I mean: everyone.

That's the question the game poses to its player. You are its player and you get to think about that question for awhile. The game takes place twenty years after a global virus has wrecked the human race. Our global village is left in shambles. We've seen this theme many times recently. It's the zeitgeist of our times. Often times it feels like we are in the final act. Perhaps we're just being self-centered.

Joel is the man you control through most of the game. And what a game. Details, details. It's chock full of details. There are some scenes that focus merely on how the breeze sways the overgrowth that has spread across a city some two decades after its been abandoned. There's humanity there, in its connection with nature, even if there are no longer humans living in that city (none that you would care to invite to dinner, anyway). There's also humanity when Joel and Ellie, the girl he is escorting across the United States to meet with an underground resistance group called the Fireflies, happen upon grazing giraffes, free of the zoo in Salt Like City. It's Giraffe City now, baby.

You also happen across zombies, for lack of a better term. They are actually disease-ridden, insane fungal-faced creatures, formerly people, who can kill you quick. Like one-shot quick. The most notorious of these, called 'clickers', prowl the darkest parts of these abandoned cities, in the places where the giraffes fear to tread. Their heads palpitate fungal overgrowth, caused by the fungal virus that decimated humankind. They look like body horror from a David Cronenberg film.

I dare not give away too much of the plot, although it is hard to discuss the game's emotional and political core without discussing its ending. But don't worry. If you haven't played it, I won't spoil it for you. This is despite the fact that the ending of the game, and all of its key plot points, must be discussed in order to write about the game's most important aspect: how the game is playing your emotions more than you are playing its characters.

The game has gotten nearly universal praise. Good. It should. But some criticism has been lobbied at its mediocre game play mechanics, particularly the third-person shooter aspects of the game. Good, too. Those mechanics are mediocre.

Tom Chick of Quarter to Three writes:

"The Last of Us is ... [linear], but it has an uneasy time deciding whether itís action, stealth, survival horror, or a reload-and-replay atrocity. It visits urban jungles, suburban idylls, and even wilderness, but itís always the same tortured rooms and hallways. A lot of the time itís a tactical soldier vs. soldiers shooter amid conspicuously arrayed waist-high cover. When you come into a room, you know by the layout when thereís going to be a shootout."

Chick is totally correct in his assertion about The Last of Us's game play. Philip Kollar makes a similar complaints in his review of the game from Polygon, more titled as "Dead Inside":

But at increasingly frequent points in the narrative, I had to buckle down and deal with the messy gunplay and repeated checkpoint restarts ... Combat against the zombie-esque infected is especially frustrating.

There is also an even deeper political meaning rooted within the game. The game is political. Man is it ever political. It asks us to decide whether we agree with the choice made by one of its protagonists, a choice that may alter the fate of all of humanity. We, the players, don't make the choice. No, the game's storyline does that for us. But we get to think about the ramifications and the morality of that choice long after the game is over. I finished playing this game days before writing this review. I'm still playing it in my head.

The game has a specific political stance: it rejects utilitarianism in favor of right-libertarianism. Utilitarianism is essentially a school of political ideology that believes that actions should bring about the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. On the other end of the spectrum, right-libertarianism claims, instead, that natural resources can be appropriated by the first person that finds them, without the consent of others, and without providing compensation. Broadly, right-libertarianism believes that actions that bring about the greatest amount of good for the individual, but not necessarily the greatest amount of people, are, at least, acceptable (this is different from left-libertarianism, which argues that there ought to be compensation towards society for natural resources appropriated by the individual).

I know, this is a lot of academic philosophy. But the game inspires it. It deserves to be discussed at an academic level, because it asks fundamental philosophical and political questions about morality. The game demands this discussion, because if you aren't thinking about these ideas after completing The Last of Us, you didn't get to the final level, which is the one were you think about the game's worldview compared to your own. This is a game where the final level exists in the mind of the player after the game is over, after it is defeated. The final level is the player's emotional response to the choice made by one of the game's protagonists at game's end. The game is never really defeated, because the dilemma between individual rights and group rights has been ongoing for thousands of years, and that is the dilemma that The Last of Us explores, and the dilemma in which it stakes a political stance. But is it ever satisfying to see this argument expressed in the form of a video game, and a popular one at that.

The Last of Us is an advocate of right-libertarianism. Anyone who has played the game to its end would be intimately familiar with the natural resource at stake in the game's world, ie., the cure for humanity. The game argues that this natural resource does not belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner, but in fact belongs to Ellie and Ellie alone, the person who originally possesses this natural resource. She is unable to understand the moral consequences of the important natural resource she holds, simply because of her age. This is why in a structured society minors have guardians capable of making legal decisions for them. That is why The Last of Us's plot unfolds as it does, right to the end.

The fictional United States in The Last of Us is not a structured society. Joel becomes her guardian merely by fate alone. Whether Joel, Ellie, or the Fireflies have the right to determine the fate of the human race, or whether they have the right to force their own self-interests to take precedence before humanity's fate, is where the real game play of The Last of Us exists. The standard third-person shooter mechanics are ancillary to the game's true game play, which is the player's emotional reaction to the moral dilemma faced by the game's protagonists right up until its final scene.   read

12:32 PM on 01.02.2013

Wii U Deluxe Review

The Wii U was released in November. Many of you probably bought one. If you didn't, though, and are considering it, here's my opinion of the console after a few weeks of owning it. I bought the black deluxe version from an EB Games here in Ontario.


The deluxe black console is small compared to the PS3 or Xbox 360, but it is built solid. It has two USB ports in the front, and two in the back. Game controllers connect via USB. The USB ports are USB 2.0, though, which is disappointing considering that USB 3.0 is considered standard now.

Game discs load in the front. The system comes with a sensor bar so it can be used with a Wii U remote control. The deluxe package also comes with a stand, so you can choose to lay the console flat, or prop it up on its side. I choose to lay it flat, although you may find using the stand useful as a space saver in a television stand or cabinet.

Overall, the console seems comparable in quality to either the PS3 or Xbox 360, although the Wii U falls short in many other ways, as we'll see.


A frequent complaint with the Wii U is the massive system update that has to be done when the console is turned on for the first time. This took a couple of hours, as downloading seems to be especially slow on the Wii U compared to my other consoles and WiFi devices. This wasn't that big of a deal for me, though, since the lengthy update had to be done only once. But I can only imagine being a parent on Christmas morning with some very impatient children waiting for this thing to update itself. You could probably cook your Christmas turkey in less time.

A bigger problem for me, though, was connecting to WiFi the first time. The Wii U found my connection, but wouldn't connect. I had to search Google for a solution, which involved manually entering an IP Address, DNS Servers, and a Gateway into the Wii U in order for it to connect to the internet. I can only imagine less tech savvy people trying to fix this. It makes me wonder how many Wii Us were returned on December 26th.

Loading screens are slow. I don't just mean loading games or the internet, but moving from screen to screen within the Wii U itself. Sometimes it takes long enough that it seems the console is frozen.

Thus, despite the massive first-day update the Wii U requires, it seems that another massive firmware update is needed in order to bring the Wii U's software up to the standard of its competition. These sorts of software problems, though, are typical of new gaming devices shortly after release.

Wii Sandbox Mode

One of the most annoying features of the Wii U (which is saying something, if you list everything I dislike about this console) is the Wii Sandbox mode. You can select Wii mode in order to play Wii games, or in order to access the Virtual Console to download retro titles. There's a nasty little trick, though. You need a Wii U remote control, which is sold separately, and is quite expensive. I have no idea why you need the remote, but you cannot get into Wii Sandbox mode without it.

Once you buy the remote and get into Wii mode, you can play your Wii games and download retro titles. There are a couple more problems, though. First, the online store for downloading Virtual Console games is different than the online Nintendo eShop. That means if you want buy stuff from both stores, you have to add money twice. This means you're going to have some money sitting in one store, and some money sitting in another, which is a nuisance, especially if you get an odd dollar figure left over after purchasing a game from one of the two stores.

The second problem is that the Wii U Pro Controller, which is also sold separately, does not work in Wii mode. If you want to use a controller in Wii mode, you have to use either the remote control or the Wii Classic Controller. Annoying little issues like this make me think that the Wii U was rushed into production too quickly for the Christmas market. The joke is that the Wii U Pro Controller is only usable in Wii U mode, and the Wii Classic Controller is only usable in Wii mode. Confused? Don't worry. If you don't own a Classic controller already, the best thing to do is just buy a remote and use that as a controller in Wii mode.

Also, GameCube controllers do not work for the Wii U.

Game Pad

The most unique feature about the Wii U is, of course, its GamePad. As everyone is aware of by now, the GamePad is a touch screen controller that can be used to play games and browse TV. The screen is 6.2 inches, and the GamePad includes a front-facing camera and a microphone. It also comes with a stylus pen.

Unfortunately, the GamePad is poorly built. It is designed to be similar to an iPad or a high-quality Android tablet, but its quality is far below those other products. The plastic shell feels cheap, like a toy. The screen itself is resistive, unlike the capacitive touch screen of higher quality tablet computers. Resistive touch screens are lower quality and, due to the need to press down on the screen, suffer more damage. The use of a resistive touch screen was obviously a cost-cutting measure by Nintendo, a company that in the 1980s redefined quality video game hardware. Not so much anymore.

My GamePad frequently loses its connection with the console. This happens every five-to-ten minutes, making it almost unusable for certain games. I've spent a ton of time researching on the internet to try and figure out why this is. I've read explanations from bluetooth interference from other devices to the Wii U not getting enough power from an electrical outlet. None of the solutions I've read have worked. It's frustrating.

The GamePad can also be synced with your television to be used as a remote. I have a Samsung HD TV. When I attempted to sync the GamePad with the television, Nintendo gave me about two-dozen or so different frequencies that might work. I tried to sync the GamePad through each frequency one by one. None of them worked. This also seems to be a common issue.

Another nuisance is that the GamePad is necessary to operate certain features of the Wii U, such as the MiiVerse, or the Nintendo eShop. Because my GamePad works so poorly, I rarely use it, relying instead on the Wii U Pro Controller and the remote control (both of which I had to purchase separately). Thus, needing to use it to access these features is annoying when I just want to use the Pro Controller or remote.7

The GamePad, being the most unique feature of the Wii U, is also the console's biggest problem. It's poorly builty and doesn't function well. Even if I had one that functioned perfectly, it doesn't add much to most of the games, unless the games were designed specifically with the GamePad in mind. Games that are designed for multiple platforms are likely better played with the Pro Controller, as the GamePad will likely add nothing for most of those titles, since they weren't designed with the GamePad feature in mind.

Overall, the GamePad is a massive disappointment.

Deluxe Accessories

The Deluxe package also comes with a stand, a charging dock for the GamePad, and a copy of NintendoLand. I'm not such a big fan of NintendoLand, although it seems to have its fans. I would have preferred Super Mario U come with the deluxe edition. It probably wasn't included so that Nintendo could sell more Super Mario games separate from the Wii U console.

The charging dock is excellent. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine using the GamePad without it. The GamePad sits upright in the dock, which plugs into an electrical outlet. The GamePad sitting in the dock looks sharp on a bookcase or coffee table. The dock makes charging the GamePad quite easy, as you do not need to plug the GamePad into anything. It sits quite well in the dock's cradle. If you bought the regular white Wii U, the charging dock is probably worth the extra money.


The Wii U has a lot of problems, both in its hardware and software. It seems like a rush job by Nintendo for the Christmas season, although I can't say for certain whether that is the case. Overall, it's probably not worth buying as it will come down in price, especially as Sony and Microsoft get ready to release their next generation consoles. Also, waiting for some of the software issues, such as GamePad connectivity, slow loading times, and the clunky Wii Sandbox mode to be resolved is a good idea, as I imagine these issues will get solved over time (or, at least, I hope).

I don't think the Wii U is a next generation console. I know that it is seen that way, but it is more comparable to the PS3 or Xbox 360. It is not more advanced than those systems. You can play games like Black Ops II and Mass Effect 3, among others, on the Wii U, and these games seem comparable in quality to their cohorts on PS3 or 360. But I can't imagine anyone buying this system to play games like that, when the PS3 and Xbox 360 have been able to play higher quality games for years now, and those consoles are much more inexpensive than the Wii U.

Many people have been happy with the selection of launch titles, but I disagree. Most of the titles were already available on other platforms, or were released simultaneously on other platforms. Nintendo has a lot of exclusive intellectual property that they failed to leverage for the Wii U's release. Besides Mario, NintendoLand, and ZombiU, there aren't really any decent exclusive titles out. Rayman Legends is being demo'd in every store in the area I live, despite that it isn't being released until February. Although, with titles like Zelda, Wii U Fit, Metroid, Star Fox, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, and lots of other stuff possibly in store in the future, there is much to look forward to, if only Nintendo could solve some of the Wii U's problems.

My advice: wait for it to come down in price

+ Comparable gaming power to PS3 or Xbox 360
+ Unique playing style with the GamePad
+ Access to exclusive Nintendo titles
+ Access to Wii mode and Virtual Console for retro games

- GamePad is poorly built and sometimes has connectivity issues
- No remote control included
- Lack of exclusive titles at launch
- Lack of USB 3.0 ports
- Slow loading screens
- Wii Sandbox mode poorly designed   read

9:25 PM on 12.17.2012

Random Musings on a New Wii U

I bought a Wii U today. I picked up the black deluxe version, which comes with a couple of stands, some extra HD space, and a copy of NintendoLand.

I never owned the Wii. I played it a bunch of times at other peoples' houses. I thought it was alright, but it seemed designed more for the casual player than the hardcore gamer. I feel the same way about the Wii U (also, is the correct styling "Wii U" or "WiiU"? I have no clue).

But I was interested in getting something different besides the PS3 I recently bought, and I grew up with Nintendo. I figured the Wii U would be a natural fit. I love the idea of playing old Nintendo games through the Virtual Console, plus all of the Wii games that most of you have probably played to death are new to me, so there's that to look forward to, as well.

Well, the Wii U isn't without its problems. First, I can't access the VC without a remote, and the deluxe box didn't come with a remote. Apparently you need the remote to access the Wii menu of Wii U and you need the Wii menu to access the Virtual Console. Huh? So I guess I need to buy a $50 remote to play old games that I could (and do) emulate on my computer for free.

Setting the Wii U up was a huge pain, too. The fancy controller sometimes disconnects itself for no apparent reason. The screens load painfully slow. So slow that I often think the machine is frozen. And the WiFi didn't connect itself automatically. Instead I had to manually enter an IP address, Gateway Server, and all that jazz just to connect to the Nintendo eShop to find out I can't buy the old Nintendo games that I have a nostalgia hard-on for.

The controller looks cool, though. I think that developers will be able to come out with some pretty neat stuff in the future for it. There are a lot of games out for Wii U already, but not really that many exclusive titles that catch my eye. I'll end up buying the Super Mario Bros U at some point, I'm sure. But I would rather play Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed or whatever on the PS3. I also think for those games you would need the Pro Controller, which is another $50 or so.

The game that came with the system was NintendoLand. It's basically a dozen mini-games. I find the games to be the quality of stuff you can download for free on your cell phone. I wouldn't have paid $60 for this title, that's for sure. However, it's an okay addition when buying the console just to test out the capabilities of the Wii U, since most of the games on NintendoLand seem designed to show off cool things the controller can do.

There's also the MiiVerse, or whatever it's called. This is Nintendo's social networking platform for people that own the Wii U, so I guess we can get together and talk about how awesome it is to spend money on Nintendo stuff. The coolest part about this thing was seeing all of the neat drawings people created with their stylus pen on the Wii U controller. Other than that, the literacy level is about the same as what you'd find in YouTube comments, perhaps with less bitching about Justin Bieber.

Speaking of YouTube, there is also an app for that and for Netflix. I am so sick of Netflix. The problem is that here in Canada, Netflix sucks balls. Canada's telecommunications industry is basically a network of criminals operating cartels to protect intellectual property they license from more creative American companies, which means that it's hard to get stuff in Canada onto Netflix, or even get Amazon Prime at all. So the addition of Netflix is no big deal. Besides, everything these days comes with a Netflix app. I think my cat came with a Netflix app.

That's my take on the Wii U. As with any new electronic, it's buggy. The best time to purchase these things always seems to be a few months after they are first released, so the initial bugs are swatted and you get a much smoother experience out of the box. But overall I think it's pretty cool, although the system seems designed to get people to outlay as much money as possible on endless accessories.   read

9:37 AM on 12.16.2012

The Minutiae of a Gamer

My name's Jeremy. Hardly an active gamer, I've recently returned to the gaming scene after a prolonged absence. And by prolonged, I mean I stopped playing console games altogether around the time the PS2 was released. This was after a childhood that was spent doing little else but sitting two feet from the floor-model television playing Nintendo.

A few weeks ago I was in an EB Games. I bought a PS3. I told the guy I hadn't played any console games since the Nintendo 64.

His response?


But I do enjoy games. And I enjoy writing. So gaming and blogging fit together naturally.

When I was a kid, we had an Atari 2600 and an NES. They both rocked. Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Pitfall spent most of the time with their ass ends sticking out of the 2600 console. We also had ET. For those who haven't played that game, everything you've read on the net about how it made no fucking sense is true. The Atari was simultaneously horrible and wonderful all at once.

The NES was much better. Nearly perfect. We had Super Mario Bros (of course), WrestleMania (I was a huge wrestling fan as a kid, and sort of remain one today), Contra, Bionic Commando, Mario 2, Mario 3, and loads of other goodies. The NES eventually went kaput. Not unlike saying goodbye to an old friend.

I still remember the Christmas my brother and I got an SNES. The only games we owned were Super Mario World and Mario Kart, but who gives a shit? Those games were wicked. They remain so today.

One of the great tragedies, a regretful event, was when we traded our Super Nintendo into the guy at Radio Shack for a Sega Genesis. Why on Earth would we do such a ridiculous thing? Because NHL 95 was released earlier on the Sega than the SNES, and it was the first NHL game where you could trade players. Trade players! Goodbye SNES, hello Sega.

Well, it turns out Sega sucked. We had a ton of Sega games, mostly because they were dirt cheap, so our parents bought lots.

We stopped playing Sega when another fateful Christmas we got the N64. My brother and I had been introduced to GoldenEye at the video store down the street, where they allowed people to play games in the store for a dollar per half hour. We spent many half hours and many dollars there.

Subsequently, I spent many more half hours besting GoldenEye. I defeated the game on every difficulty, and achieved every last cheat. I think my brother may still have the cartridge with all of the saved cheats I accomplished. That was my teenagehood.

I bought a used PlayStation from a pawn shop with money I saved from working at a Tim Horton's. The PS worked like shit, but I spent countless more hours of teenagehood on Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Metal Gear Solid, the three Resident Evils, among other games. It was wicked.

Then the PS2 came out. People went batshit for it. There was some sort of shortage the Christmas it came out, so prices were sky high. Hundreds of dollars. I couldn't afford one. It was annoying. So I stopped playing, having played all the games I wanted to on the N64, PS1, and the lowly Sega, and not being able to afford the PS2. And that was the last time I played any console games.

During my recalcitrant intermission from the console gaming world, I did continue to play PC games. I got pretty into World of Warcraft for awhile, but that has been an awkward love affair, and I only play off and on. I'm usually only on it long enough to recall how dull it is, although sometimes I am again smitten by Azeroth and its bizarre parallel existence.

Having purchased a PS3, I've found the console gaming world has grown leaps and bounds since I last enjoyed it. It has followed a path of maturity that seems to mirror my own life, mired in nostalgia, pained by sometimes inelegant growth, but genuine growth nevertheless.

Speaking of nostalgia, I also picked up a working NES at a local store, and have purchased a whack of games for it. I love it. I love it as much as the PS3.

After all, machines need love, too.   read

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